Album

What Went Right With… Life’s A 50/50 Gamble by Trigger Tha Gambler?

A review of the unreleased album Life's A 50/50 Gamble by Trigger Tha GamblerAd for Trigger Tha Gambler's debut album on Def Jam recordsAfter his brother released the underground classic Once Upon A Time In America in March 1996, Trigger Tha Gambler was set to unleash his solo offering Life’s A 50/50 Gamble later that same year. I remember pestering my local record shop, asking them week in and week out if they had Trigger’s album, especially after seeing an advert for it (left) in various Hip-Hop magazines. Then, after a few months of disappointment, I ordered it from the U.S. via mail order from Tower Records, but despite waiting several months, it never shipped. Had Trigger The Gambler’s label Def Jam stuck to their release schedule, Life’s A 50/50 Gamble would have been released on September 24th 1996, and considering the success of The Smith Bros’ single on Def Jam’s own The Nutty Professor Soundtrack (“My Crew Can’t Go For That” with D.V. Alias Khrist) it should have been a priority. But alas, that date came and went, and without explanation, the release date was pushed back to 6th November 1996… but surprise, surprise, the LP never dropped on that day either. I’ve read online that March 17th 1998 was another possible release date but that didn’t come to fruition. In either case, by the late ’90s, most people had downloaded a lot, if not all of the album from Napster, a copy which I assume was ripped from the Rush Associated Label Recordings promo cassette given to publications in 1996 in order to review it. This was a fucked-up situation because Smoothe and Trigger had created a buzz for a year or two and fans were eager to hear The Gambler’s LP and yet Def Jam, for some unknown reason, failed to release this album and in turn prevented a talented MC from making any money (if you have have any info as to why this album was shelved, please leave a comment below). What this goes to show is that an artist can put in work to promote and even ghostwrite for a label’s so-called best talent, but when it comes time for some thankyou’s, their career can be forcibly (and through no fault of their own) left dead in the water.

Life’s A 50/50 Gamble starts with an “Intro” with Smoothe Da Hustler speaking with Trigger Tha Gambler over an ominous sounding string. Smoothe prophetically exclaims “This rap shit was all designed any mother fucking way, you can’t trust nobody”. This leads to “Hitman For Hire” (also known as “Hitman” on the tracklisting) which contains some Broken Language-esque lines; “The hundred dollar bill flasher, the currency money stasher” and “The stack the money, cash regulator, head sweller, clip emptier, spirit separator”. D.V. Alias Khrist then blesses the hook: “When you need a money man and you don’t got no plan, who you call on? [The Hitman For Hire], When you need that cash flow and you don’t got no doe, who you call on? [The Hitman For Hire]”…

Next up is “My Crew Can’t Go For That” featuring Smoothe Da Hustler and D.V. Alias Khrist. This was the aforementioned chart hit from Eddie Murphy’s fat-suited comedy film that was played on Hip-Hop and non-Hip-Hop radio stations, plus MTV and other music video channels. With its interpolation of Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)”, this was an ideal, mainstream-friendly jump-off for this album. In this song Trigger gives us some near-palindromes a la “My Brother My Ace” (“My crew come better. Better come with crews that’s beef setters, Settin’ beef, I’m known for being that rhyme deader you can’t defeat”) and Smoothe impresses with his complex flow (“I freaked it backwards, Backwards how I freak it. Peep it, my sanity helps me live it and speak it frequent, Slowly, I can capture criminal raptures, The master blowing MC’s with minimal batches of rappers”. I also have to say; given Trigger Tha Gambler’s line “I sit back in my bed. Watch Bill And Ted. Make sure my days is excellent before my eyes get red ” it bothered me that he wasn’t included in the sequel Face The Music.

“Broken Language Pt. II” featuring Smoothe Da Hustler was the sequel to the Smith Bros.’ underground smash from Once Upon A Time In America. Unfortunately, this follow-up despite shunning a chorus, didn’t contain the same level of kenning as its predecessor. Sometimes the “Broken Language” switched to an epiphora: “Drama bringers, money swingers, down to face brothers, The laced brothers, same murder case brothers, That erase brothers, hurt others, Cock back and hurt brothers” and sometimes it referenced the original song without bringing more of what fans loved (“You slow sinking in my quicksand, No maybe, if, and’s, or but’s about it, The ‘sneak over fuck your babysitter’ nigga, what about it?”). Don’t get me wrong, there’s some great lines here, but this was supposed to be “Broken Language” not “Broken But Fixed Language”. It’s strange that “Hitman For Hire”and “Meetcha Maker” contained lots of lines that were better suited to this song had they been swapped around. This sequel also laid to rest any criticism the duo faced for their “Big Daddy Kane, Little Daddy Shane overdoers” lyric which made some people question if Smoothe and Trigger were dissing them in Part I. In “Part II” they include the line “Peace to Shane and Kane, we ain’t got beef, don’t ask; we just give props to old-schoolers”…

“Nickel Plated Nine” is next and it sports a dirty piano and string sound. With Trigger aptly outlining his namesake; various guns from 22’s, 9mm’s, to Mack 10’s, the song is something the radio would never play regardless of the highly skilled flow. The hook is extremely catchy: “The only thing I love is my nickel plated nine, The only thing I sport on my arm is my shine, Niggas wanna act, better recognise mine, Niggas wanna get dumb it’s body bag time”. In my opinion, this is one of the standouts on the album…

We’re then led to the R’N’B-infused “Nothing Can Stop Me” featuring a verse from Rhyme Recka and Case on the chorus. With mentions of “Polo”, “Versace”, and “Rolex” this was one of my least favourite songs mainly due to the hackneyed lyrics and overly-mainstream sound but others may disagree…

Next is “50/50 Gamble” which is a brilliant song with a downbeat vibe. The song is about meeting violence with violence and holding one’s own in the streets and it contains lines like this; “Herbs testing mine, stressing mine, disrespecting mine, grabbing mine, asserting mine, just in case it’s hammer time, Heads I’m damaging, hospitalise and bandaging, medical decision, paralysation, cripple, heavy guns I’m handling”. Smoothe’s hook “The street life is nothing but a scramble, To live and let die is a 50/50 gamble, It’s all about S.M.G., either you lose win or draw, sex money and guns, thug life, pure to the core” beautifully accompanies Trigger’s street-centric lyrics…

“Smoother Da Hustler Interlude” leads to another heavy, head-nodding track titled “Welcome To The World”. I don’t know who delivers the chorus (“Welcome to the world, the side you never been, Nexx Level Clique rolling through, thick and thin”) but it’s a great hook which compliments the mean beat and rugged lyrics…

It wasn’t until around a decade ago that I discovered the next track “Bust” (featuring Smoothe Da Hustler and D.V. Alias Khrist) had a music video. Although I owned the 12” vinyl, I never saw this video on MTV, another reason why the promotion during the lead-up to this album was botched. That being said, this music video was too upbeat and the break-dancing-cum-Blues-club aesthetic gave the wrong look for Trigger’s LP (but I guess that’s pointless to argue given the non-release of this LP). The song contains what sounds like the bass line from Cypress Hill’s “I Ain’t Goin’ Out Like That” and Trigger comes out blasting with his syllable-extending wordplay: “I got the mad-ack, at your bad-ack it’s like that-at, I’m the Broken Language avenger on your trad-acks; Tape, CD’s and wad-ax, that’s a fad-act, You’re running ha-hide, I slip up out of the slide-ide, and cree-deep, catch you off guard when you slee-deep, Throw the gun to your neck for bothering me”. Smoothe’s final verse is simply astounding and the catchy hook (“put your guns up and bust, c’mon now”) I’m sure is interpolating a classic track, I just don’t know what it is! (leave a comment if you do)…

“Rugged” is a simple yet head-nodding joint with a haunting vocal sound and a faint piano key. Similar to “Welcome To The World”, I have no idea who is on the hook along with Trigger. The Source review mentioned “Foxy Brown” which may make sense since Smoothe helped write some of her verses (including her collaboration with Jay-Z on “Ain’t No Nigga”) but it doesn’t sound like Foxy to me. Regardless who’s on the hook, Trigger’s lyrics are as always spectacular…

“Can U Feel It” featuring Smoothe Da Hustler is another attempt at making a radio-friendly track, this time with a more “jiggy” sound. The old-school aesthetic isn’t bad but the isolated singing sample (“can you feel it?” from Gwen McRae’s “Funky Sensation”) feels amateur which in turn ruins the always impressive flow by Smoothe and Trigger…

“Meetcha Maker” featuring Keith Murray is a better street banger. There’s some decent lyrics here (“I got ill thoughts trapped in my mind, when I tick off, the only way to dead me is to kill time”) including the hook in which Trigger and Keith take each line: “Whoever wanna die slowly, for those who don’t know me, my bullets leave ’em more than hole-y, Be prepared to meet your maker, I be your soul taker, your crossroad communicator”…

“Scandalous” is a fantastic song which contains some stirring string and piano production. Rhyme Recka gives a great verse which includes some of his own “Broken Language” alongside Trigger. D.V. Alias Khrist delivers a highly-memorable hook: “Ooh, I’m feeling scandalous, ’cause the Hitman For Hire is dangerous” and Trigger Tha Gambler gives a brilliant anaphora which feels like an Ian Dury & The Blockheads-esque line: “black vest, black boots, black gloves, black mask, black gats that shoot fast to body that black ass”…

The album closes with “Make A Move”, a rugged joint with a mean hook (“Make a move ’cause you choose to lose and die young, where you come from acting like you want some?”). The song features D.V. Alias Khrist on one of the verses and the “Kenny Gee” shoutout means he produced this track (confirmed by the credits in the Nexx Level compilation album All Up In Ya). Trigger’s hilarious line “Even Ex-Lax couldn’t let loose the shit I got backed up” is one of many splendid lines from this underrated lyricist…

The standout tracks are the robust “Hitman For Hire”, “Broken Langauage Part 2”, “Nickel Plated Nine”, “Welcome To The World”, “Rugged”, “Meetcha Maker”, “Scandalous”, and “Make A Move” which I’m sure you’ll agree are a lot of songs. “Bust” and “My Crew Can’t Go For That” are also very impressive and these radio-friendly joints show how to crossover without selling out. Had the weaker songs (“Nothing Can Stop Me” and “Can U Feel It”) been removed, this could have been a perfect LP.

The production like Smoothe’s album, is almost entirely handled by D/R Period (I’m assuming since there’s no liner notes to confirm this) and it’s consistent and pleasing to listen to. Given the way in which Smoothe, Trigger, D/R, and D.V. gelled together and kept up an unwavering level of memorable material, everyone was expecting a D.V. Alias Khrist and Rhyme Recka album but that didn’t happen. Both Trigger and Khrist walked away from Def Jam after being dismayed by the way the label handled their superb yet unheard material. But I digress.

Album cover comparison

The original cover artwork (left) and the self-released bootleg version (right) which uses a cropped print advert as its cover

The paltry 3 Mics (out of 5) received from The Source was grossly and obviously underrating this album and it’s reviews like this that made it look like 50/50 Gamble was an average, unimportant LP on the run-up to its release. Contrary to what the deaf press said, Life’s A 50/50 Gamble was and still is a great listen. A “self-released bootleg” version (as described in Discogs) was sold recently on CD with a different cover to the original, which I instantly snapped-up. I have no idea if Trigger Tha Gambler released this himself after getting his masters from Def Jam or if some random person thought they’d put out this forgotten classic. All I know is that hearing it in, let’s say above average quality, was something I’d been waiting for for more than two decades. I’d love a genuine remastered version to officially drop or a high-quality ALAC or FLAC download from somewhere like Bandcamp but for now I at least have this LP is some form or another.

The contentment and slight disappointment I felt when hearing “Broken Language Part 2” on Tim Westwood’s Radio 1 Rap Show, when I realised that it didn’t follow the same structure as the first song, is one of the reasons why this album is a 9 instead of a 10 (that and because of the two overtly-radio-friendly tracks). Despite this minor issue however, Life’s A 50/50 Gamble is a great album by one of the unsung MCs from the golden era of Hip-Hop. Shelved or not, nobody can say Trigger Tha Gambler isn’t one of the greatest rappers of his generation along with his brother Smoothe. Fuck knows what Def Jam were playing at with this album’s release (and for that matter, Cormega’s Testament) but when you hear this LP it proves that Trigger is one of the G.O.A.T.’s. Hey, maybe the label were suppressing an obvious talent to make way for one of their weaker, less skilled rappers. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were, because…

That’s Life.

Beats: 8/10

Rhymes: 9/10

Overall: 9/10

What Went Wrong Or Right With This Article? (spam & shite will be deleted)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.